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June 13, 2005

Magazine Review: Sporting News picks UF second

A couple of weeks ago we previewed Lindy's preseason Southeastern magazine. Now it's time for Sporting News.

Price: $6.99
Size: 136 pages

The Sporting News national college football preview magazine will be available June 14, but the SEC edition has been out since late May. It is a streamlined 136-page effort - 88 pages shorter than Lindy's regional magazine - but don't let the lack of size fool you. Lindy's included 63 pages of national coverage and had a preview of Conference USA, limiting its SEC section to 109 pages. Other than a six-page national preview and one page of national recruiting, Sporting News' regional magazine is all SEC, all the time.

UF's eight-page preview is written by Mike Huguenin, an editor at the Orlando Sentinel. Matt Hayes, Sporting News' college football writer and formerly a Gator beat writer for the Florida Times-Union, handles the scouting the SEC section as well as player and position ratings. Rivals.com editor JC Shurburtt handles a four-page recruiting section in the front of the magazine and a recruiting box in the Florida preview.

Sporting News' layout annually is the best of all college football magazines. It is clean and concise, making for an easy read, and is devoid of fluff. It also is devoid of features. If you want player and coach profiles or theme pieces, look elsewhere.

Here are the highlights:

1) Trailing Tennessee

Although its writers are as high on Urban Meyer as Lindy's, Sporting News does not predict the same immediate success as Lindy's, which has UF winning the SEC championship and finishing fourth in the nation. Sporting News forecasts a solid 9-2 finish, leaving the Gators two games behind 11-0 Tennessee in overall record and in the SEC, where it places them in a tie with Georgia at 6-2. The Vols are second nationally while UF is 11th.

"Urban Meyer's honeymoon will last for, oh, two weeks," the magazine writes. "Then Tennessee comes to town."

2) They say it twice, so it must be true

Why the two-game gap between Tennessee and Florida? Must be the evaluation of the running backs. Gerald Riggs is listed as the SEC's leading Heisman Trophy candidate, one spot ahead of Chris Leak. After gaining 1,107 yards a year ago while sharing time with Cedric Houston, Riggs is capable of 2,000 yards according to Sporting News.

Meanwhile, UF running back DeShawn Wynn is listed as one of the three SEC players who must step up on page 6. Four pages later, he gets a solo mention as the SEC player who must step up. Clearly, Sporting News considers Wynn a pivotal player, and just as clearly, its writers are not convinced he will get the job done.

3) Hanging with Hal Mumme

It is jarring to see Meyer, who repeatedly emphasizes the importance of his players living right, joining former Kentucky rule-breaker Hal Mumme in any category, but there they are. In its national section, Sporting News mentions them as the two coaches who will perform "overnight transformations" at their new programs. Mumme is taking over at New Mexico State. Meyer "inherits one of the nation's most talented - and dysfunctional - teams," but his "disciplinarian style and demand for accountability and responsibility will give the Gators direction and dedication."

Meyer is fourth in the ranking of SEC coaches behind No. 1 Steve Spurrier, No. 2 Phil Fulmer and No. 3 Mark Richt. The magazine believes Meyer's ability to win with other coaches' players is a compliment to his ability but wonders how his spread option offense will work in the physical SEC.

4) Say What?

After picking Tennessee to win the SEC, Sporting News says UF's season willl be shaped not in September, when the Vols come to Gainesville, but October, with games at Alabama and LSU, the Jacksonville contest with Georgia and a home game with Mississippi State. Mississippi State? Yeah, right. "If UF loses twice in October, it almost certainly means no SEC East title," Sporting News writes. Hmm. If Tennessee is as good as advertised, wouldn't losing to the Vols in September kill off those SEC hopes?

5) Unitary support

The difference between UF and Tennessee is not evident in the SEC unit rankings. The Gators are ahead of the Vols at four of six spots, ranking No. 1 at backfield to the Vols' No. 3, No. 3 at receiver to the Vols' No. 5, No. 3 on the offensive line to the Vols' No. 4 and No. 3 at linebacker to the Vols' No. 4. Tennessee gets edges at defensive line, where it is first to UF's second, and secondary, where it is second to UF's fourth. UF is the only SEC team to rate fourth or higher on all six units.

6) Individual honors

Sporting News has the usual All-SEC first-and second-team lists, but it digs deeper in a chart of individual honors that are more specific than other magazines attempt. For example, it lists the SEC's fastest running back, shiftiest running back, best short-yardage runner and best blocking back. UF's Brandon Siler is the league's best cover linebacker. Defensive tackle Ray McDonald is the league's most underrated player. Andre Caldwell is the league's fastest receiver - that's pretty obvious - but who knew Cody Douglas of Tennessee was the league's quickest offensive lineman? Apparently, Sporting News does.

7) Wowed by Webb

There are not many surprises in Sporting News' evaluation of UF players, but the magazine is ahead of the curve on cornerback Dee Webb. He not only makes the first team (along with Caldwell, center Mike Degory, Leak, Siler and punter Eric Wilbur), he is listed as the league's No. 1 cornerback. Interestingly, Kyle Jackson gets a mention as the SEC's best strong safety without making either the first or second team at safety. Why? All four guys on those units are free safeties.

Leak, Degory, Wilbur, Webb and Kyle Jackson are No. 1 at their positions. Tate Casey is the No. 2 receiving tight end, while Chad Jackson is the second best receiver when the ball is in the air.

8) Inside info

Sporting News ranks the SEC's top five offensive and defensive coordinators. UF's combination of Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison is third behind Bo Pelini of LSU and John Chavis of Tennessee, but the write-up of the duo is more interesting than the ranking. Strong "was hampered last year by former coach Ron Zook's constant meddling," Sporting News writes. Nothing new there, but the magazine adds, "Now he must adjust to working alongside Mattison, who will be making the calls."

That may be the consensus, but Meyer never has announced who will make the calls.

9) Priceless picture

Sporting News' art is top rate. Check out the photo of Mike Degory on page 48. His one-eyes squint as he sits on the bench is a classic pose, but he probably will not be thrilled when he sees it.

10) Oops department

Some mistakes are controllable, and others aren't. On page 29, freshman tight end Brian Ellis is listed as Brain Ellis in a chart of the top incoming players. For what it is worth, "Brain" is rated the fourth best tight end. Unfortunately, the magazine went to press before UF's coaches played musical chairs on the offensive line. Consequently, LEFT TACKLE Randy Hand is listed as the second best right side offensive lineman in the SEC. Right TACKLE Lance Butler is the fifth best guard.


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